Scowcroft Endorses Clinton

A revered Republican foreign policy guru has endorsed the Democratic nominee for president.


Arguably the most respected Republican foreign policy expert has endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.  POLITICO:

Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser under Republican presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, endorsed Hillary Clinton for president on Wednesday.

“Secretary Clinton shares my belief that America must remain the world’s indispensable leader,” Scowcroft said in a statement, touting her experience as secretary of state. “She understands that our leadership and engagement beyond our borders makes the world, and therefore the United States, more secure and prosperous. She appreciates that it is essential to maintain our strong military advantage, but that force must only be used as a last resort.”

Clinton, Scowcroft stated, “brings deep expertise in international affairs, and a sophisticated understanding of the world,” qualities he described as “essential for the Commander-in-Chief.”

“Her longstanding relationships with a wide array of world leaders, and their sense of her as a strong and reliable counterpart, make her uniquely prepared for the highest office in the land,” he added.

Scowcroft’s endorsement comes after his fellow foreign-policy realist Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state under George W. Bush, told POLITICO last week that he would support Clinton over Donald Trump if he is the Republican nominee.

“I believe Hillary Clinton has the wisdom and experience to lead our country at this critical time,” Scowcroft stated.

I’m a great admirer of Scowcroft.  As I noted years ago in a post for the Atlantic Council, Scowcroft is one of the few people who, when he expresses a view contrary to the one I hold, my immediate instinct is to question what I’m missing in my analysis. In this case, I agree with his position but unpersuaded by his argument.

Given a choice between Clinton and Donald Trump at the helm of the ship of state, I reluctantly but easily chose Clinton. Trump simply lacks the maturity, decency, experience, judgment, and temperament to be president. And much of what Scowcroft says of Clinton is true:  she has experience, expertise, and relationships that would be useful in running US foreign policy. Indeed, she’s arguably the most qualified-by-resume presidential nominee since Scowcroft’s former boss, George H.W. Bush.

That Clinton shares the foreign policy Establishment’s conventional wisdom that American must remain the world’s hegemon is certainly true. It’s by no means clear, though, that she believes that “force must only be used as a last resort.” Most notably, she was a driving force in persuading a reluctant President Obama into the Libya debacle. All indications point to her being a more aggressive version of her husband, who engaged in far too many do-gooder interventions of tangential relation to US national interests over his eight years in office.

For that matter, while she has “Secretary of State” as the top line on her resume, the list of accomplishments associated with that entry are sparse, indeed. Yes, she has the experience. But what did she actually do with four years in charge at Foggy Bottom? What did she learn that she’d put to good use?

Scowcroft is endorsing Clinton because the alternative is Trump. Putting his country over his party in this instance is why he’s such a revered figure. But let’s not guild the lily here and pretend she’s an accomplished statesman.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Or better yet: ” Former Right-center Neo-Con official endorses Left-center Neo-Con.” Yawn

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Jim Brown 32: Scowcroft is in no sense a neocon; he’s virtually the icon of classical Realist foreign policy wisdom. I’d argue that Clinton is a liberal interventionist rather than a neocon, because of her emphasis on international institutions vice American unilateralism, but there’s certainly a significant overlap in the two schools.

  3. dennis says:

    Yup, I’ve always thought HRC was tougher than most, including Obama. Her pro-intervention position on Libya left me perplexed, and with such a sour, disappointing taste. I only hope she’s learned some patience of thought since then. I think she could accomplish much to bring us out of this malaise we’ve been in for eight years. That is, if the GOP would grow up and not muck it up.

  4. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner: In certain circles, “neocon” simply means “anyone who is more hawkish than I am.” (In certain other circles, it’s a code word for “Jew-controlled,” or, simply, “Jew.”)

  5. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @dennis: You’re asking a lot of the Republicans. After all, her name is Clinton and you can see what happens at even the mention of the name from reading Dr. Joyner’s post.

  6. @Jim Brown 32:

    Brent Sowcroft was one of the big opponents of the Iraq war, so I don’t see how he qualifies as a neocon:

  7. dennis says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    I know. Still, I hope: the emperor hasn’t driven it fully from me …

  8. DrDaveT says:

    But what did she actually do with four years in charge at Foggy Bottom?

    Prevent things from flaring up to the point that you would have become aware of them?

  9. Guarneri says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m not sure how debating the mechanisms or endorsers provides further illumination in the current election. HRC, evidenced by her vote on Iraq and the Libya fiasco, is an interventionist. Trump seems much more a self interest realist.

    I do allow that it is only Thursday, and pending poll results tonight HRC may change her, ahem, convictions.

  10. MarkedMan says:

    Clinton’s hawkish tendencies are definitely one of the few things that raise concerns IMHO.

    OTH, I would argue that the pivot to Asia under Clinton’s state department will be considered extremely important in the long run. I was living in China when, at the Pacific Conference (?), leader after leader stood up and defied China and demanded that geographical issues be negotiated together, rather than the one on one that China wanted to impose. China was completely blind-sided and to this day dislikes but respects Obama and Clinton because of it. In the subsequent years, all of those countries had moved away from China’s orbit and back towards ours. Our recent thawing with Viet Nam is a direct result of that effort, as they feel we are a reliable backstop.

    The Pivot to Asia is about the future, whereas the European and Middle-Eastern issues are about the past. It’s not that they cannot go bad in a big way, but there is only downside there as those forces are basically spent. Asia is where the new economy is being created and the Obama/Clinton effort to focus our best and brightest there is exactly the right thing to do.

  11. James Joyner says:


    Prevent things from flaring up to the point that you would have become aware of them?

    There’s no way to see the counterfactual case, obviously. I’d argue her biggest success was setting up the Iran sanctions that ultimately led to the deal under her successor. I tend to view TPP, which also culminated under Kerry, as a modest success although it’s one she has disowned. The Russia Reset was a foreseeable and foreseen disaster.

    The administration didn’t exactly contain the spread of ISIS. Nor did they do much to capitalize on the Arab Spring. I don’t think a McCain or Romney administration would necessarily have been better, mind you, although I think Bush Sr. and Scowcroft would have done much better in both cases.

  12. Tony W says:

    @James Joyner:

    although I think Bush Sr. and Scowcroft would have done much better in both cases.

    Based on Republican mastery of foreign policy in the past?

    Need I remind you Bush Sr. went to war largely because his ambassador to Iraq signaled we didn’t care about Kuwait? That doesn’t really give me a lot of confidence in the man’s state department.

  13. stonetools says:

    Most notably, she was a driving force in persuading a reluctant President Obama into the Libya debacle.

    Count me in as one of the defenders of the Libya intervention. Most people here seem to think that had Obama not intervened. Libya would be some sort of oasis of calm and stability now. Wishful thinking.
    When the British, French, and America intervened., Libya was in a civil War. Qaddafi was driving on the rebel held Benghazi, threatening to massacre the inhabitants ” like dogs.”. So the humanitarian case for intervention was clear.
    What also seems clear its that the conflict would not have subsided after intervention It is likely that the civil war would have continued , and Libya would have ended up like “Syria on the Mediterranean”, with massive refugee flows heading for Italy instead of Greece, west into non-too-stable Algeria, and east into Egypt (’nuff said). IOW, you could have ended up with a worse Libya non-intervention.

    Now if all that happened, I can imagine a whole set of critics saying “Well, why didn’t Obama intervene? The case for intervention was so clear!”
    Bottom line, in the Middle East , you often have two choices: a flustercuck and a bigger flustercuck. The Libya crisis was never going to have a nice, clean denouement either way, despite the fantasies of either interventionists or the non-interventionists. Max Fisher at VOX lays it out in more detail here:

    Applied to the Libyan context, this means that we’re not comparing Libya, during or after the intervention, with some imagined ideal of stable, functioning democracy. Rather, we would compare it with what we judge, to the best of our ability, the most likely alternative outcome would have been had the US not intervened.

    Here’s what we know: By March 19, 2011, when the NATO operation began, the death toll in Libya had risen rapidly to more than 1,000 in a relatively short amount of time, confirming Qaddafi’s longstanding reputation as someone who was willing to kill his countrymen (as well as others) in large numbers if that’s what his survival required.

    There was no end in sight. After early rebel gains, Qaddafi had seized the advantage. Still, he was not in a position to deal a decisive blow to the opposition. (Nowhere in the Arab Spring era has one side in a military conflict been able to claim a clear victory, even with massive advantages in manpower, equipment, and regional backing.)

    Any Libyan who had opted to take up arms was liable to be captured, arrested, or killed if Qaddafi “won,” so the incentives to accept defeat were nonexistent, to say nothing of the understandable desire to not live under the rule of a brutal and maniacal strongman.

    The most likely outcome, then, was a Syria-like situation of indefinite, intensifying violence. Even President Obama, who today seems unsure about the decision to intervene, acknowledged in an August 2014 interview with Thomas Friedman that “had we not intervened, it’s likely that Libya would be Syria. … And so there would be more death, more disruption, more destruction.”

    Now I know this is an unpopular position here (downvote away if it makes you happy!) but there actually is a good realist case for intervention, and current Libya might well be the best Libya.

  14. JohnMcC says:

    Gen Scowcroft is much appreciated by Dr Larison at TAC and I regard him as Dr Joyner regards Scowcroft — if we disagree my first response is to look at what I believe.

    Glanced at his bio upon reading this and I suppose it is completely off-topic but I discovered that he is Mormon. Hummm…. We’ve mentioned the suspiciously strong HRC standing in Utah polling, haven’t we?

  15. grumpy realist says:

    @stonetools: You iz right. A lot of the bitching and complaintsI hear about our government’s foreign policy decisions really boil down to “my ideal world didn’t come into existence, which undoubtedly would have happened had we done ‘X'” .

    Sort of like the whining that has been made about the whole Iran negotiations. The assumption that if we were to hold back would have brought a more compliant Iran to the table has to be one of the biggest pieces of self-delusion I have ever run across. Had we balked, both Russia and China would immediately bolted from the coalition, period. So it was either going along with what we could get or….nothing.

  16. EddieInCA says:

    Brent Scowcroft is a respected elder statesman in the foreign policy arena. This will cause alot of heads to turn in Washington.

    I’m waiting for Donald Trump to call him a loser, who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and try to brand him a failure. If he doesn’t, it will be a; surprise, and a hint that Trump;s handlers are actually enforcing some discipline on the man.

    We will see.

  17. Pch101 says:

    A service is being held for the death of the Eleventh Commandment. (“Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Apparently not.)

  18. Gustopher says:

    @stonetools: I’m not convinced that Libya would have been a bigger clusterfuck had we not intervened, but I strongly doubt it would have been a lesser clusterfuck. And, with the French and the British already intervening, we just made the intervention shorter.

    As far as non-intervened Libya becoming “Syria on the Mediterranean” goes… Syria is on the Mediterranean. Also, Libya might not be done reaching peak clusterfuck.

    If we stealthily got rid of Assad in Syria, I expect that Syria would become a “Libya on the Mediterranean” — which would actually make things easier, since we wouldn’t be on different sides from the Russians.

  19. Gustopher says:

    @EddieInCA: Or it will be a hint that Trump has no idea who Brent Scowcroft is.

    That seems more likely than moderation on Trump’s part.

  20. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:


    Trump seems much more a self interest realist.

    This is the only good feature that Trump has to his credit, but he is so full of shirt that I don’t find it credible to believe that he won’t commit US troops to some woebegone adventure when he discovers that allies won’t carry the water for us and Congress taunts him as a “do-nothing President.”

    On the other hand, I just realized that you might be thinking about his willingness to throw “the football.” I hope not.

  21. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @James Joyner: You may be right about Arab Spring viz-a-viz Bush senior and Scowcroft, but that assumes that there was something to “do.”

    The SNL line where Bush Sr. repeatedly says “not gonna go there, wouldn’t be prudent” has as its origins a comment he threw out while getting onto Marine One about deposing Saddam Hussein (IIRC) toward the end of the first Gulf War. I gravitate toward Arab Spring being analogous.

  22. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @stonetools: I see your point and raise that the same scenario (close enough i my view at least) plays out in Somalia, the Sudan, the Congo, and a bunch of other places. Why is the ME part of our national security interests? To play the race card for a minute, why are the lives of Arabs more important than the lives of other non-Arab Africans?

    I agree that the Libya we have may be the best available–it may be the only Libya available either way. I’m not sure that intervention did what you believe it did. War, in general, is, indeed, good for “absolutely nothing.”

  23. anjin-san says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    Former Right-center Neo-Con official

    Not sure where you got that idea. Scowcroft enjoys a great deal of respect in the foreign policy community, with good reason. He’s bright, pragmatic, highly skilled, and not overly impressed with himself. A fine public servant who has had a long and distinguished career. And I say this as a liberal Democrat.

    If GW had been willing to listen to Scowcroft, much pain could have been avoided.

  24. steve s says:

    Brent Scowcroft is an adult. Listen to what he says.

  25. An Interested Party says:

    I do allow that it is only Thursday, and pending poll results tonight HRC may change her, ahem, convictions.

    Another one chewing on sour grapes, but if he could stop chewing for a moment, perhaps he could offer a reasonable argument as to why Donald Trump would be a better president than Hillary Clinton…

  26. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @An Interested Party: The only two arguments that I’ve heard so far from supporters are that

    1) Donald Trump is God’s man for the hour, and

    2) He isn’t Hillary Clinton.

    That’s all their is, sorry.

  27. Dazedandconfused says:


    What it appears she was doing was mostly promoting business. Where I am Boeing is big and it’s clear Boeing is very, very fond of her. They say she worked her ass off to help them sell planes, and rumor has it anybody trying to sell stuff abroad found her willing to help if at all possible.

    The Clinton’s are true believers in the public/private partnership model. It’s a very conservative position. It’s the way we have mostly done things and certainly works for the Chinese. However the modern American public has been conditioned to view either “business” or “government” as evil, and if not one or the other, both.

    I suppose the stuff doesn’t fare well in focus groups so the campaign avoids it, and that is probably a mistake. It’s a topic difficult to frame in single sentence questions to those who instantly think “corruption” whenever they hear about business and government working together.